We’ve put together a list of best museums in Istanbul, a city of great historical and cultural significance. These museums are significant in the world of art history and definitely worth visiting.
Table of Contents
1. Istanbul Archeology Museum
Considered among the largest museums in the world, the Istanbul Archeology Museum is at the top of our list as the oldest building built as a museum in Turkey. The collection of the museum, founded by Osman Hamdi Bey, includes works belonging to civilizations within the borders of the Ottoman Empire.
Coinciding with the institutional emergence of museology at the end of the 19th century, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum was founded as ‘Müze-Hümayuni’, which is the Imperial Museum. The architect of the museum, which was opened in 1891, is Alexander Vallaury, who is the architect of works such as Pera Palace, Emek Cinema (Cercle d’orient), and Tokatlıyan Hotel. The museum contains important works such as the Alexander Sarcophagus, the Weeping Women Sarcophagus, the Lycian Sarcophagus, and the Tabnit Sarcophagus.
Address: Alemdar Street, Osman Hamdi Bey Yokuşu Street, Gülhane – Fatih/Istanbul , https://muze.gov.tr/
2. Rahmi M. Koç Museum
The museum, established in 1994 with support from businessman Rahmi Koç, mainly showcases items related to industry, transportation, and communication history. It’s not just about exhibitions; the museum also hosts events, concerts, and organizations.
This museum, featuring sections like Lengerhane and Shipyard, houses a wide range of collections, including maritime artifacts, computer history objects, motorcycles, bicycles, horse carriages, oxcarts, classic cars, rail transportation items, agricultural tools, an olive oil factory, and underwater items.
Among the thousands of objects in its collection, some of the notable ones include the TCG Uluç Ali Reis Submarine, 1917 Albion X-Ray Vehicle, 1961 Amphicar, 1898 Malden Steam Car, Olive Oil Factory, Sultanate Wagon, G10 Locomotive, and Riva Aquarama.
Address: Piri Paşa, Hasköy Caddesi, No: 5, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, http://www.rmk-museum.org.tr/istanbul/en/home-page
3. Pera Museum
The Pera Museum, established by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation in 2005, was constructed as part of a project led by architect Sinan Genim. It preserved the historical Bristol Hotel’s facade.
Inside the museum, you can explore various collections such as “Orientalist Painting,” “Anatolian Weights and Measures,” and “Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics.”
The Orientalist Painting Collection, a particularly interesting part of the museum, features an extensive array of artworks created by European “orientalist” painters and Ottoman artists who drew inspiration from the Ottoman world and its geography.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Meşrutiyet Caddesi, No: 65, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, https://www.peramuseum.org/
4. Sakip Sabanci Museum
The Sabancı Sakıp Sabancı Museum is home to a valuable collection of calligraphy and paintings. It also hosts temporary exhibitions featuring the works of renowned artists from around the world. This museum was established in 1998 by Sakıp Sabancı, who dedicated the historic Atlı Köşk building to Sabancı University for its conversion into a museum.
In 2002, the museum opened its doors to visitors, complemented by a modern gallery. Subsequent renovations in 2005 expanded its exhibition areas and brought it up to international technical standards. The painting collection on display at the museum includes works by foreign artists who worked in Istanbul during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, such as Fausto Zonaro and Ivan Ayvazovski. Additionally, you can find pieces by Turkish artists like Osman Hamdi Bey, Şeker Ahmed Pasha, Süleyman Seyyid, Fikret Mualla, and İbrahim Çallı.
Address: Emirgan, Sakıp Sabancı Caddesi, No: 42, Sarıyer/İstanbul, https://sakipsabancimuzesi.org/en
5. Naval Museum
The Istanbul Maritime Museum is Turkey’s biggest and one of the world’s best maritime museums. It all started in 1897 when the Minister of Naval Affairs, Hasan Hüsnü Pasha, along with Colonel Hikmet Bey and Captain Süleyman Nutku, set up the “Museum and Library Administration” in a small building at the Ottoman State Shipyard, called Tersane-i Amire.
This museum, initially known by that name, has always been a significant part of maritime history. In 1914, when Cemal Pasha became the Minister of Naval Affairs, he made changes and put Naval Captain Painter Ali Sami Boyar in charge to make the museum more organized from a scientific perspective.
The collection holds about 20,000 items, including royal boats, sailor uniforms, manuscripts, ship models, flags, maps, paintings, and more.
Address: Sinanpaşa, Beşiktaş Caddesi, No: 6, D: 1, Beşiktaş/İstanbul, https://denizmuzesi.dzkk.tsk.tr/en
6. Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Considered Turkey’s first modern art museum, Istanbul Modern was founded in 2004 by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) under the leadership of the Eczacıbaşı family. The Istanbul Modern collection hosts works from different disciplines, ranging from painting to sculpture, installation to video. With an international orientation, Istanbul Modern includes modern and contemporary works of art, productions in the fields of photography, design, architecture, and new media in its collection.
Address: Kılıçali Paşa, Tophane İskele Caddesi, No: 1/1, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, https://www.istanbulmodern.org/en
7. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern, a truly impressive and must-visit structure in Istanbul, has reopened to visitors after undergoing restoration. This vast underground cistern, originally constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I between 527 and 565, earned the nickname “Basilica Palace” among the public over the centuries because of its numerous marble columns rising from the water.
The name “Basilica Cistern” comes from the fact that there was a basilica at the location before the cistern was built. In addition to its historical significance, the Basilica Cistern now hosts experimental shows and performances in its new era.
Address: Alemdar, Yerebatan Caddesi, No: 1/3, Fatih/Istanbul, http://yerebatansarnici.com/
8. Hagia Irene Museum
Hagia Irene Museum, considered the first museum of the Ottoman era, was constructed during the reign of Sultan Ahmet III. It was created to house various items collected from different parts of the Ottoman Empire. These collections were divided into two sections: the “Old Weapons Collection” (Mecma-i Esliha-i Atika) and the “Ancient Works Collection” (Mecma-i Asar-ı Atika).
In 1908, a new military museum was established, and this museum stored various historical items until 1949, functioning as a military museum.
Between 1974 and 1976, the surrounding landfills were removed to prevent moisture damage. Since 1973, the building has been used to host various art events, particularly those organized by İKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts).
Address: Cankurtaran, Topkapi Palace, No: 1, Fatih/Istanbul, https://muze.gen.tr/muze-detay/ayairini
9. Türkiye İş Bank Museum
The museum, dedicated to Turkey’s economic history and its journey of economic development, is situated within a historic building originally constructed as a post office in 1890. In 1927, the building came under the ownership of Türkiye İş Bankası and served as a bank branch until 2004. It was then transformed into a museum in 2005 and opened to the public on November 14, 2007.
The museum’s collection comprises three-dimensional objects gathered from İşbank branches, which have become integral to the bank’s daily operations, along with paper and visual materials from the bank’s archives. Some of the pieces from the İş Bank Painting Collection are on display year-round as part of a permanent exhibition on the museum’s first floor.
Address: Hobyar, Bankacılar Sokak, No: 2, Fatih/Istanbul, https://www.issanat.com.tr/isbank-museum
10. Borusan Contemporary
Borusan Contemporary is a modern art institution that offers a variety of contemporary art experiences, including exhibitions, events, and educational programs. It draws inspiration from the Borusan Contemporary Art Collection and actively supports new art creation and art writing through commissions.
Established in 2011, Borusan Contemporary features galleries, office spaces, the Museum Café, and Borusan ArtStore. The museum incorporates technologies such as photography, video, sound, light, software, and data into its art practices. It places a strong emphasis on international artists and new media art. Exhibitions and events are held at the Perili Köşk, the administrative building of Borusan Holding.
Address: Rumeli Hisarı, Balta Limani Hisar Caddesi, No: 5, Sarıyer/İstanbul, https://www.borusancontemporary.com/en/
11. Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum
Turkey’s first Fine Arts museum, initially established in 1937 within the Crown Prince’s Office of Dolmabahçe Palace, is still open today at Antropo No: 5 in Tophane. This museum is affiliated with Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and houses significant artworks from the 19th-century Ottoman era and the Republican period.
Known as the only art museum in Turkey until the 1970s, the Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum boasts the most important collection of modern Turkish paintings in the country. It has played a pivotal role in inspiring the creation of art museums and State Art Galleries in numerous major cities across Turkey. The museum proudly houses a collection of 12 thousand works of art.
Address: Kılıçali Paşa, Parliament-i Mebusan Caddesi, No: 6, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, https://irhm.msgsu.edu.tr/en/homepage/
12. National Palaces Painting Museum (Resim Müzesi)
The National Palaces Painting Museum, established in 2014 by the National Palaces Administration, stands out for its impressive architecture and its valuable art collection. The museum displays a collection of paintings that were commissioned and acquired by Ottoman sultans during the 19th century, presented in a thematic arrangement.
With 30 halls in total, the museum features paintings from palaces under the National Palaces Department’s jurisdiction, as well as artworks borrowed from Topkapı Palace, which is not under the National Palaces Department.
Address: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Palace, Dolmabahçe Street, Beşiktaş/İstanbul, https://www.millisaraylar.gov.tr/Lokasyon/LokasyonDetay?LokasyonId=11
13. Museum of Innocence
The Museum of Innocence, which was transformed from Orhan Pamuk’s novel of the same name, is housed in a 19th-century building. It’s unique in that it’s the only museum inspired by a novel and was honored with the European Museum of the Year Award in 2014.
This museum portrays the visits of Kemal Basmacı, the novel’s protagonist, to the house of his love, Füsun, and the collection of items he gathered during those visits. In the novel, this house is where Füsun and her family reside. Orhan Pamuk, the novel’s author, mentioned that he began collecting the initial items for the museum even before writing the novel and used these items as inspiration while writing.
Furthermore, the book’s eighty-three chapters are represented by eighty-three boxes in the museum.
Address: Firuzağa, Çukurcuma Caddesi, Dalgıç Çıkmazı, No: 2, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, https://www.masumiyetmuzesi.org/en
14. Doğançay Museum
The Doğançay Museum, Turkey’s inaugural contemporary art museum, is dedicated to showcasing a small retrospective of Burhan Doğançay’s artwork, along with pieces by his father, Adil Doğançay. The museum’s collection spans fifty years of Burhan Doğançay’s artistic journey, encompassing his early figurative paintings to later works and photographs inspired by urban walls.
Address: Hüseyinağa, Balo Sokak, No: 42, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, https://www.instagram.com/dogancay_museum/
15. Istanbul Toy Museum
The Toy Museum, established in 2005 by Belgin Akın and the poet-writer Sunay Akın, is housed in a historic mansion. It’s a museum that showcases the most popular toys from the 1700s to the present day. Sunay Akın collected these toys from antique dealers and auctions in more than 40 countries over a span of 20 years.
The Istanbul Toy Museum has a unique goal: to make learning world history more engaging and memorable through toys. It was designed by the talented design artist Ayhan Doğan, marking a world-first as a museum founded by a poet and crafted by a stage design artist.
Address: Göztepe, Dr. Zeki Zeren Sokak, No: 17, Kadıköy/İstanbul, https://istanbuloyuncakmuzesi.com/pages/en
16. Madame Tussauds Istanbul
Madame Tussauds Istanbul is a unique museum that displays lifelike wax figures of numerous famous individuals from various fields such as history, art, science, politics, sports, and entertainment, representing different cultures and civilizations. Madame Tussauds, renowned for its wax figures, has museums in London and several major cities worldwide.
The Istanbul branch of Madame Tussauds features wax statues of iconic figures from the past to the present, including Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, Sahiha Gökçen, Zeki Müren, Adile Naşit, Neşet Ertaş, Barış Manço, MFÖ, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Beren Saat, Tolga Çevik, Hidayet Türkoğlu, Yasemin Dalkılıç, as well as international celebrities like Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, Victoria Beckham, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Beyonce, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo Di Caprio, and Jennifer Lawrence.
Address: Hüseyinağa, Grand Pera, İstiklal Caddesi, No: 56, D: 58, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, https://www.madametussauds.com/istanbul/en/